32nd Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 32nd meeting on 5 December 2012. The Chairman welcomed a new member, Henry Bellingham MP who is the fifth former FCO Minister with responsibility for BIOT or the Indian Ocean to have joined the Group.
Members considered legal developments since the last meeting on 17 October. They noted that the Judicial Review of the MPA had been postponed to March to allow the FCO more time to prepare their case, in view of additional pleadings agreed by judges on 13 November, concerning traditional fishing rights and the requirement under the EU Treaty for social and economic development of the OTs. The Group also discussed the Mauritius case at ITLOS which would be heard by a Tribunal next July. Until these cases were resolved it was difficult to see how the MPA ,declared on 1 April 2010, could progress. The Group discussed ways in which these issues might be resolved through diplomacy and compromise, such as providing Mauritius with a role in the MPA and the Chagosians with a designated fishing zone, as is provided for the Pitcairn fishermen in the forthcoming Pitcairn marine reserve.
The Group also considered the implications of the Information Commissioner’s Decision that the BIOT Administration was subject to FOIA and EIRs. There seemed to be no good reason why the FCO should want the BIOT Administration, which is part of the FCO, to be immune from freedom of information and disclosure of environmental information. It was possible that the FCO would appeal to the First Tier Tribunal. The Chairman said he would table a further PQ on the subject.
The FAC meeting (postponed to 11 December) concerning the Overseas Territories White Paper, at which the new FCO Minister Mark Simmonds would be questioned, was discussed. Andrew Rosindell, the Vice Chairman of the Group, would be raising various issues regarding the section in the WP concerning BIOT.
The Group discussed the 1966 UK/US Exchange of Letters, due for renewal in 2014. It was felt that this provided a golden opportunity to discuss with the US an overall settlement of the issues and that the sooner these discussion began the better.
Lord Avebury’s intervention in the Lords debate on piracy in the Indian Ocean on 24 October was discussed. He had proposed that following up the meeting between the two prime ministers of 8 June, and once the court cases were out of the way, discussions between the UK and Mauritius on the future of the Chagos Islands should take place. Since Lord Avebury had received an unsatisfactory reply to his proposal during the debate it was suggested that he should write to the Minister concerned.
The next meeting of the APPG will be on 13 February 2013. As Philippa Gregory and the Comite Chagos were unable to meet the Group on this occasion it was agreed that they should do so before the next meeting.